There have been so many articles published in the last 10 years about empaths and narcissists, you’d almost believe that the divisions between men and women are obsolete.
It is now empaths in this bathroom and narcissists in that one. After doing quite a bit of research, spawned entirely by the question “Am I a narcissist?,” I have come to terms with the fact that, yes, I have displayed these tendencies in the past.
Left to my own devices, I float in and out of love so fast it makes my head spin, my relationships tend to last four to six months, I’ve always struggled with empathy for others, I’ve been an entertainer in one form or another since I was quite young, and I felt uncomfortable when I wasn’t the center of attention.
My list of matching traits goes on…
I have read that with age these tendencies, much of the time, are lessened and the inherent characteristics of the garden variety narcissist will begin to diminish. What I have discovered in my own life is that once I got my act together and became sober and involved in a 12-step program, they diminished even quicker.
I remember when I was new and freshly clean—way before I knew anything about the empath/narcissist phenomena—I began to question why I didn’t feel things the way others did.
One night at a meeting, a guy came in to share about his younger brother who overdosed on heroin and died that day. This guy was wailing uncontrollably as he spoke about it. Retrospectively, it seems completely normal. I just sat in my seat and began to realize that I have never gotten to that level of emotion about anyone or anything ever before.
It bothered me enough to call my new sponsor and ask if there was something terribly wrong with me. He was a loving man so he assured me that we are all different when it comes to expressing emotion, but if I was really concerned about it, he could teach me to start practicing empathy for others. That was the first time I ever heard anyone mention that empathy was something that could practiced, and subsequently improved upon.
He explained that I shouldn’t admonish myself for my characteristics at that point. He added, that much of the time, as people with raging addictions who are trying to exist out in the world, we have a tendency to build defence mechanisms that keep us safe and help us survive. “Recognize that these defences are no longer going to be useful and go about the business of learning how to live in this world as a healthy person,” he said.
So, I did what he suggested. A lot of what needed to happen was made easier just because I stopped bombarding my body with substances. I noticed as I moved into a cleaner, more peaceful place, the incessant noise in my head quieted down and I was able to really listen to someone else. I changed my reward system from one of chasing instant gratification, to finding the real joy in difficult love.
I worked on feeling whole without needing to be the center of attention in every situation and every time I would make my usual snarky judgement about someone else, I would immediately try and pinpoint what it was they were doing that I was guilty of too. This practice gave me the ability to see the wisdom in the old cliché that what we can’t stand about some people is a reflection of what we don’t like about ourselves.
I am not, however, living happily ever after.
One does not decide one day to alter their entire character and be done with it. There is a constant vigilance to being empathetic and compassionate to others. My brain reminds me daily of the unhelpful places it wants to go to and it is up to me to notice these things and correct them on the fly. After living like this for a certain amount of time, it becomes a visceral feeling when I start to regress to unpleasant behavior, so generally my gut will tell me when I need to get quiet and reel it in a little.
Narcissism, like addiction, is not a life sentence. It is entirely possible for human beings to decide they would like to live another way and do what it takes to make that happen. It takes energy and it takes mindfulness, but it is hard for me to think of anything more worthwhile.
Author: Billy Manas
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman